Smithfield pork plant in LA faces rolling Covid-19 outbreak

A coronavirus outbreak at the Farmer John pork processing plant in Los Angeles County that began nearly a year ago has been the focus of two state investigations. Cases at the Smithfield Foods-owned plant have more than doubled — with over 300 cases reported in January alone — as the county has become a Covid-19 epicenter, Leah Douglas and Georgia Gee report in FERN’s latest story, produced in collaboration with Documenting Covid-19.

The story points out that the plant was cited by the state in November and ordered to pay a $105,000, the “largest citation at a meatpacking plant nationwide,” according to the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, which represents meatpacking workers nationwide. The union said that at the time of the citation, more than 315 worker cases were tied to the facility.

“Internal county and city health department emails, obtained by the Documenting COVID-19 project in collaboration with the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN), further reveal that the plant inconsistently reported cases to local officials and violated a state public health protocol even as the California investigation was underway,” the story says.

Since November the case count has risen. “Currently, 784 workers at the plant have tested positive for Covid-19, including the new infections in January, according to county health department data. The total amounts to nearly half of the plant’s workforce. Five have died. It is the largest outbreak at any food-processing facility or other similar worksite in Los Angeles, according to the county public health department, and one of the largest meatpacking plant outbreaks in the country,” the story says.